Here’s another one I haven’t heard anyone talk about, or even mention for that matter. Kaze no Youjinbou is an obscure series that aired back in 2001, but seems to have become nearly forgotten over the past eight years, which is a bloody shame because it’s a really good series. Recommended for anyone who’s into a good mystery series.
This series is about criminal gangs in a small mining town, and the street-punks, corrupt politicians, villagers and police officers around them. Street-punks and yakuza in anime are very often incredibly stereotypical. They’re either a bunch of screaming and evil paper bags who appear just out of random and attack the lead characters in order to insert some random tension, or they’re portrayed as those cheesy thugs with a heart of gold and a strong sense of bushido. Kaze no Youjinbou however portrays them as ordinary people: not pure evil, but it also doesn’t try to glorify their greed, the crimes they commit and their twisted outlook on life. It tries to look into what drives these people to start horrible turf wars that involve entire towns. And I must say that they succeed in this very well.
But at heart, this series is a mystery-series, based on a classic film by Akira Kurosawa. The thing I liked best about this series is how it really takes its time to let the story introduce itself instead of rushing through the beginning: you won’t have any idea what this series is going to be about in the beginning, because it’s very carefully introducing every major character, while showing a very detailed portrayal of how they live their lives. You’ll never know when something is just meant to flesh out the characters or develop the plot the moment it happens and despite the very slow pacing, there’s always something small going on.
This series has really done well in making its setting come alive in the first half. When the lead character runs into someone, it feels like this someone was there because he’s part of the setting, rather than for the sake of the plot. Even when characters are out of the screen, you can feel tat they’re all carrying out their own agendas, instead of waiting for the camera to focus back on them. Unfortunately, this effect disappears in the second half, which becomes more like a straight-forward gang war and this show loses a bit of its subtlety. It’s because of this that in my opinion, the second half is less impressive than the first half: it’s another one of those mystery-series that’s better at asking questions, rather than answering them, but it nevertheless keeps your attention until the end, which does wrap up everything nicely.
The animation in this series ranges from really bad to really good. This means that there are some action scenes that are a bit hard to take seriously due to the incredibly cheap visuals (a certain scene of a car driving down a road stands out in particular), but in exchange for that there are plenty of scenes that have absolutely amazing visuals. The colour-palette is full of washed out and grayish colours that give this series a very cold atmosphere, but the direction is what really gives this series its own unique visual identity. There are lots of very creative camera angles, gorgeous shots and poses, awesome shading and some of the animated scenes are full of life and detail that make a huge impact when they need to. Especially episode 13 stands out in these downright awesome visuals.
It’s a shame, really. Today, I pretty much consider Studio Pierrot as the single worst of the big animation companies out there. However, before they found their cash cows of Naruto and Bleach, they were a really good production company, with their own visual style and quite a few excellent titles on their names. Ever since Victorian Romance Emma ended however, they seemed to have completely given up on trying to do anything creative with their talents, and that’s such an incredible shame. Series like Kaze no Youjinbou, Great Teacher Onizuka, Fancy Lala and Emma definitely show that they’ve got the ability to do much more than what they’re doing right now.